Sunday, March 16, 2008

Got (Soy)Milk?

Think Spring!

The end of winter is a great cause for celebration here in New England. And it is marked - in my mind at least - by the beginning of the maple syrup season. And of course, with the running of the sap comes the inevitable maple pancake breakfasts.

My Beloved and I love the maple breakfasts - pancakes or waffles or french toast with lashings of maple syrup, cooked right there in the sugar shack. And of course, we stay local and frequent a family-owned place called Pomeroys.

This year, of course, things are slightly different. Being vegan means there is little I can eat there, as the whole menu revolves around sliced/ground pigs (aka 'bacon' and 'sausage') and cows' milk - in the french toast, waffles etc. So we were in a real quandry. We know the people who own the farm and they are truly good folks - genuine, kind, salt of the earth types, who are eeking out a living with a small dairy herd, battling for fair market prices for their milk, and cooking up maple sap for our breakfast. And their animals are well cared for and free roaming. I guess it's farming like it used to be.

Or is it? I took some pictures and in reviewing them notice something startling: there are few babies. There is a stable of dairy cows, but only one baby. And as you see, she's a bit of a tourist attraction:

As I stood with her, she rubbed her head on the wire of her enclosure and clearly adored being tickled around the ears. Her pink-mottled nose was slightly wet and softer than velvet. And her eyelashes were curled, silken strands that seemed to 'whoosh!' as she blinked gently. She really was the most gorgeous animal.

While I was scratching her head, a woman with a young child came to stand with us. The little girl was clearly rather taken with the calf and her mother was quick to explain how the little calf would grow up to be like her mommy - a big cow who'd give us milk. My Beloved and I exchanged a glance which said as clearly as if he'd spoken: do not say a word! He needn't have worried - the lump in my throat prevented me from speaking anyhow. Because I was thinking about the future of this little one. Of how she would be raised only for her milk, how she'd be impregnated year after year, only to have her baby removed from her each time. How she'd develop porosis as the demand for an unnaturally high milk yield leached the calcium from her bones. And how she'd find herself on a truck to a slaughterhouse when her productivity waned, around 6 years from now.

But this is a dairy cow? Can this be her future? Yes. It can and probably will be. Ask yourself this question: even on the small holdings, on the organic family many retired cows do you see? How many aging animals can you visit and see being cared for in their 'twilight years'? And remember the recent story about the unconscionable abuses of cows in the California slaughterhouse? Well folks - these were dairy cows. Spent, used up, abused and broken animals whose only purpose in life was to provide you with your daily glass of milk at breakfast.

So take a look into their endlessly soft and deep eyes and ask yourself if you couldn't perhaps make it a soy-milk after all?

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